Frankie is 12, and his life is busy, filled with annoying siblings, larger than life relatives, cricket, birds, rituals, errands, private projects, lists and homework. He has a best friend, Gigs, who shares most of his interests, and a new friend, Sydney -- not his girlfriend! -- who is interesting and chaotic and asks all the questions that other people don't dare to ask… like, why hasn't Frankie's Ma left the house in nine years? Because Frankie's life is also filled with a secret undercurrent of constant worry -- about his health, about his mother, and about himself.
This is a book about anxiety, and it beautifully and sympathetically takes us into the mind of a chronically anxious pre-teen. I could relate to quite a lot of it -- the obsessive list-making in bed, for one thing, and also Frankie's mother's need to stay safely inside her own house FOREVER. I suppose with such potentially dark subject matter, de Goldi had to balance the mood with lots of cheerful material about Frankie's quirky family, and while they are very real and totally loveable (even grumpy, sarcastic teenage sister Gordana, who I think might be living in my house), the novel sometimes veered close to too much quirk-territory. I also found the structure slightly confusing -- each chapter jumps forward two weeks, and we then get a recap of events that have occurred in the past fortnight, so there is a lot of 'Frankie had thought… Sydney had said…' which made for a slightly clunky read in places.
But these are mere quibbles. For being a book set in New Zealand (second one in two weeks -- weird), for its warmth and humour and gentleness, I loved this book. It hits my sweet spot -- between childrens' and YA. On the very first page, there is a grumpy older sister who steals the last muesli bar, an irrational fear of ants, and a teacher called Mr A. I think my (anxious) Ms 11 will find a lot to relate to.
PS Things You Find in Books
My ex-library copy of The 10pm Question had a photo inside it. Who are these lovely young people? Which of them used this photo as a bookmark and forgot to retrieve it? Anyway, I blow you all a kiss. You have good taste in books.